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Trailer: The Kleptocrats

Not taking anything away from Scorsese's Wolf of Wall Street, this documentary about the company behind the financing of that film, will see your jaw drop to the floor. If for nothing else, this investigative documentary is necessary viewing for a scene featuring a recorded phone call with Robert De Niro.
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Dark Money

Documentary, Festival, Film Festival, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

Due to a certain reality TV star and property owner becoming the leader of the free world, American politics has come under a fair amount of scrutiny recently with the rest of the world sitting back and watching what appears to be the Government eat itself. The gap between the common man and political leader has never appeared so defined. And yet, Trump getting into office seems like a forgone conclusion when you consider the topic of Kimberly Reed’s documentary, Dark Money.

In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that the government could not ban corporate spending in candidate elections, which came as a shock to many. No more so than the state of Montana who, since 1912, had declared that corporations could not make financial contributions of any kinds in a state election. With the state’s hands effectively tied behind its back, Dark Money explores the ramifications of the Supreme Court’s decision using local government as a stand in for the country as a whole.

Reed (Prodigal Sons) paints a portrait of patriotic monikered advocacy groups funneling money to fund partisan advertising and, let’s be honest, influence political decisions. It’s a cut-throat business exemplified by a group wishing to dismantle Obamacare and inviting a politician to defend the health care system. Despite flyers promoting the town hall public debate, the politician in question is never actually invited to attend and when it becomes clear they’ve been hoodwinked, the public meeting is told by a coldly smiling PR agent that they’ve just misunderstood the purpose of the meeting. Gaslighting 101.

On top of this are slanderous flyers going out to potential voters that make wild claims about ‘unpatriotic’ candidates. In one, a candidate is painted as being someone who would let serial killer John Wayne Gacy off the hook. It’s jaw-droppingly insane how far these funded groups will go on behalf of their ‘clients’.

And at the heart of all this is that in the attempt to purge Montana of its moderate politicians, real issues are being woefully ignored. Issues such as an abandoned copper mine which could potentially be the next ecological disaster. Spoiler alert: it is.

Reed also follows John Adams, an investigative journalist who loses his job over the course of the film before rallying the troops and starting his own independent news group. It’s never explicitly said that Adams lost his job because of the things he uncovered, but it doesn’t say that he didn’t either.

Reed’s film will boil the blood of many. She is a passionate filmmaker who has a lot to say. Equally though, it is a film that has too much to say in 90 minutes and a lot of Dark Money appears to be spilling over the edges. It’s not helped by the fact that Reed is trying to squeeze a narrative spread over several years into such a short runtime. As such, the film is dense and, despite a nice turn with a whiteboard, hasn’t got time to breathe and spell things out for its audience.

You don’t need to have an in-depth knowledge of American politics, but at times, it feels like it would help. After all, there’s no doubt that this is an important subject to address, so it’s a shame to see it get drowned out by its own noise.

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Camino Skies

Documentary, Review, Theatrical, This Week 3 Comments

Offering an inspirational look at the process of coping with emotional and physical trauma, Camino Skies is a powerful feature documentary looking at the lengths people will go through to experience recovery.

Tracing the path of a group of Antipodean walkers as they traverse the 900km route from the French Basque town of St-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, the film naturally provides space for each individual story to shine through.

The major motivating force at work in all of their recent histories is a desire to push themselves and to confront and hopefully come to terms with recent or ongoing pain. Each of the walkers have experienced grief of some kind, and the filmmakers sensitively display all of the accounts with integrity and purpose.

Displayed against the stunning scenery of the mountainous route, a pathway considered to be the Mecca of pilgrimages for religious and non-religious alike, the questions each walker asks themselves take on profound implications. At points, the film delivers a powerful level of emotional impact.

The filmmakers never overdo this however, and each response, be it laughter or tears, always comes across as a human reaction to where they are and what they happen to be talking about. The various personalities in the film are also linked by their sheer passion for wanting to complete the arduous walk.

Aged from 40 – 70, the walkers deal with all weather and terrain along the way, bravely coping with the blisters and bruises that come with the territory. Away from their homes for a whole month, the walkers learn to help each other; the comradeship and shared desire to experience a greater achievement is portrayed evocatively.

Key to this accomplishment of showing the stories of recovery up against the big picture of nature, is Noel Smyth’s cinematography. Demonstrating the majestic grandeur of the Pyrenees and the intense elements that preside around them, the camera work is at once transporting and beautiful.

It’s also a well-paced film, benefiting from editing that pushes the film along elegantly. Like the walk itself, it’s a steady and gradual journey that does not have need of overly dramatic disclosures or jump cuts.

A meditative film that invites reflection and wonder, Camino Skies delivers on its brief. We discover why people choose to put their bodies and minds through the pilgrimage, and just what can be learned. In effect, it’s a moving account of moving on.